Rotherham Titans put in a strong second half performance to overcome a determined Cambridge side 24-20 at Grantchester Road to record their 14th National 1 win of the season.
The victory sees Rotherham move ahead of Chinnor and Darlington Mowden Park into fifth spot in the table as they aim to finish off the season in strong fashion.
However, Titans endured a messy start to the clash and found themselves trailing as early as the third minute when some sloppy tackling enabled Cambridge winger Joe Green to score his side’s first try. Ben Penfold impressed from out wide in the windy conditions to add the extras and give the hosts a dream start.
One aspect of the Titans game which has impressed of late is the set scrum and again this facet paid dividends. On 12 minutes following a series of penalties given away at the set piece referee Richard Haughton was left with no alternative but to award a penalty try to level matters at 7 apiece.
At this stage of the contest however the home side looked much the brighter and clinically exposed Titans lacklustre start to the match when in a three minute spell they crossed the whitewash twice.
Firstly on 19 minutes following a good period of possession fly half Ben Penfold chipped through cleverly for full back Mike Ayrton to dot down and then the fly half was involved again as he popped a pass outside to Ned Brown who fed flanker Louis Rawlings to run in for an easy try. Both conversions were missed in the ever-increasing windy conditions.
Trailing 17-7 and having conceded three tries in the opening 22 minutes and with the home side looking full of energy and enthusiasm, the afternoon looked as if it would be a long one for the South Yorkshire side.
However, time and again this term this young Titans squad has shown an abundance of fight and character beyond their years and they were about to show it once more against Cambridge.
In the final play of the first half Rotherham pressed with urgency deep inside the host’s 22, before the ball arrived with Callum Irvine who threw a long miss pass over the top to find winger Henry Roberts who raced in to score near the corner. The conversion was held up in the wind and fell just short to leave Titans trailing at the break 17-12.
Rotherham continued their improvement in the second period and generally bossed matters for much of the half.
Titans improved performance led to their third try on 54 minutes when from a five metre line out hooker Jack Bergmanas dotted down from the tail of a maul. Irvine’s narrow miss with the extras left the game poised at 17 apiece.
Cambridge never once lacked energy in their workload and after a short period of intense pressure inside the Titans 22 drew a penalty, which Penfold knocked over from in front of the sticks to nose his side in front 20-17.
Back came Rotherham and a sustained period of pressure followed inside the host’s 22. Finally eight minutes from time and from another series of scrums close to the Cambridge line Rotherham were awarded another penalty try to give them the lead for the first time in the match.
A massive period of Cambridge pressure followed as they attempted to be the second team this season to do the ‘double’ over Rotherham. However, Titans demonstrated incredible tenacity in defence to hold on and secure their first away win since December.
Commenting post-match Joe Barker explained, “We know these lads have got bags of character and they definitely showed that again today. At one point we had a defensive set on the edge of our 22 near the end and we managed to push them back into their own half which was an outstanding effort.
“At that point we didn’t give away any penalties in what was a multi-phase period for them and we were winning the collisions. In the first half we didn’t win those collisions and we weren’t going at them, we were slow getting off the line and we were holding off even though we were in the right positions.
“We corrected that at half time and in the second half and we increased our tempo in how we wanted to play in attack and we moved them around and we managed to score some points. It was a good second half performance and the lads fully deserved the five points and it’s all credit to them for the win.”
Referee: Richard Haughton
Yellow Card: Baxter (Cambridge)
Titans: Penalty Try (2T), Roberts (T), Bergmanas (T)
Cambridge: Green (T), M Ayrton (T), Rawlings (T), Penfold (1C, 1P)
Titans: 15 Dan Leake, 14 Henry Roberts, 13 Jamie Cooke, 12 Harry Dunne, 11 Connor Field, 10 Callum Irvine, 9 Connor Dever, 1 Dan Richardson, 2 Jack Bergmanas, 3 Will Dennis (Stout 20) (Dennis 69), 4 Dan Preston-Routledge, 5 Jamie Ure (Frost 47), 6 Luis Ball (Cotterill 47), 7 Zak Poole, 8 Seb Nagle-Taylor (Capt.).
Replacements: 16 Ali Thomson, 17 Rikki Stout, 18 Kieran Frost, 19 Tom Cotterill, 20 Alex Dolly.
Cambridge: 15 Mike Ayrton, 14 Nana Asiedu, 13 Ned Brown (Rayner 80), 12 James Ayrton (Yawayawa 26) (J Ayrton 36) (Yawayawa 41), 11 Joe Green, 10 Ben Penfold, 9 Kieran Duffin, 1 Ramaz Rukhadze (Peck 12), 2 Alex Rayment (Ruddock 54), 3 Jack Higgins, 4 George Bretag-Norris, 5 Gareth Baxter, 6 Darren Fox (Capt.), 7 Louis Rawlings (Moore 71), 8 Ciaran Moore (McCloud 47).
Replacements: Cameron Ruddock, 17 Henry Peck, 18 Jake McCloud, 19 Lawrence Rayner, 20 Sam Yawayawa.